G‑d remembered [the prayers of] Noach and [the decent behavior of] all the wild animals and all the domesticated animals that were with him in the ark. G‑d caused a spirit [of consolation and relief] to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided.

-- Breishis 8:1

Classic Questions

Why did the flood subside? (v. 1)

Rashi: This verse uses the Divine Name Elokimwhich represents G‑d's attribute of justice—even though the verse is speaking about an act of Divine mercy, because the attribute of justice was converted to mercy through the prayers of the righteous [i.e., Noach].

Conversely, wicked people transform G‑d's attribute of mercy [indicated by the Tetragrammaton, Havayeh] to the attribute of justice, as the verse states: "G‑d saw that man's wickedness on earth was increasing....G‑d [Havayeh] said, 'I will wash away man, whom I created...'" (Bereishis 6:5-7). I.e., even though the verse speaks of destruction [justice], the Tetragrammaton is used here, indicating G‑d's attribute of mercy, since it was transformed to justice through man's wickedness.

The Rebbe's Teachings

Justice -v- Mercy (v. 1)

In Hebrew, two different names are used to indicate G‑d's actions through two different attributes. The Torah uses the name Elokim when G‑d acts in a manner of strict justice. The Tetragrammaton (Havayeh) indicates that G‑d is acting mercifully.

Our verse is thus somewhat of an anomaly. On the one hand, we are speaking here of an act of Divine mercy where "G‑d remembered [the prayers of] Noach and [the decent behavior of] all the wild animals and all the domesticated animals that were with him in the ark." And yet, on the other hand, the verse employs the Divine Name Elokim, which indicates Divine justice. Rashi answers, "The attribute of justice was converted to mercy through the prayers of the righteous."

Rashi then continues to cite another, similar case in Parshas Bereishis:

"G‑d saw that man's wickedness on earth was increasing...G‑d [Havayeh] said, 'I will wash away man, whom I created...'" (Bereishis 6:5-7). I.e., even though the verse speaks of destruction (justice), the Tetragram­maton is used here, indicating G‑d's attribute of mercy, since it was transformed to justice through man's wickedness.

However, one detail requires clarification here. The first instance of this phenomenon—the use of a seemingly inappropriate Divine Name—was the verse in Parshas Bereishis. If so, why did Rashi not explain this concept straightaway? Why did he wait until the second inappropriate use of a Divine Name, here in Parshas Noach, before providing the reader with an explanation?

The Explanation

At the very beginning of the Torah, when describing the creation of the world, the Torah employs the Divine Name Elokim, indicating justice rather than mercy. Rashi explains:

"In the beginning, it was G‑d's intention to create the world with the Divine attribute of justice, but He realized that the world would not be able to endure. So He gave precedence to the attribute of mercy, and allied it with the attribute of justice."

Presumably, the "precedence to the attribute of mercy" to which Rashi refers means that the attribute of justice does not have the right to finalize any decisions on its own. Rather, it must have the consent of the attribute of mercy, which is always given precedence.

When reaching the verse, "G‑d saw that man's wickedness on earth was increasing... G‑d [Havayeh] said, 'I will wash away man, whom I created...'" (Bereishis 6:5-7), the reader will initially be struck by the question: Why does this verse use the name Havayeh (mercy) when it speaks of destruction (justice)? However, when the reader recalls Rashi's comment at the very beginning of the Torah, this question will fade away. For the reader is already aware that every decision of the attribute of justice must have the consent of the attribute of mercy, which is always given "precedence." Therefore, in this case, the reader will understand that even though the verse speaks of destruction, the name Havayeh (mercy) was used to indicate that G‑d's plan of destruction received the consent of the attribute of mercy. Therefore, Rashi felt no need to make a comment on this verse at all, relying on his earlier comment at the beginning of the Torah.

On reaching our verse, which states that "G‑d [Elokim] remembered [the prayers of] Noach, etc.," the reader will immediately be struck by the question: Why does the Torah use the name Elokim (justice) here, when G‑d is performing an act of mercy?

In this case, Rashi's comment at the beginning of the Torah will not help us. Rashi's words there only explain why an act of justice requires the consent of the attribute of mercy (since the latter is given precedence). In our verse, however, we are witnessing the opposite: that the attribute of justice (Elokim) appears to be giving its consent to an act of mercy! The reader will thus be troubled: If the attribute of mercy always takes precedence, why does it need the consent of the attribute of justice?

To answer this question, Rashi explains, "The attribute of justice was converted to mercy through the prayers of the righteous." I.e., the reason why the Torah uses the name Elokim (justice) here for an act of mercy is to teach us that G‑d's attribute of justice had been utterly transformed by the prayers of Noach, to the extent that it too wanted to perform acts of mercy.

At this point, we have to reconsider our previous understanding of the verse in Parshas Bereishis. Previously, we had assumed that in the verse "G‑d [Havayeh] said, 'I will wash away man, whom I created...'" the Torah had employed the name Havayeh (mercy) for an act of justice to teach us that the attribute of mercy had consented to this act. One problem with this interpretation is that, from a simple reading of the verse, it appears that the attribute of mercy is actually performing the action and not merely consenting to it ("G‑d [Havayeh] said, 'I will wash away...").

Thus, after learning here, in Parshas Noach, that one attribute can actually be transformed to be like the other (and not merely consent), we can re-evaluate our understanding of the earlier verse. Presumably, in Parshas Bereishis, too, the attribute of mercy actually became transformed to act in a manner of justice. This explains more satisfactorily why "G‑d [Havayeh] said, 'I will wash away man whom I created....'" Therefore, after explaining the interpretation of our verse in Parshas Noach, Rashi retraces his steps to the verse in Parshas Bereishis, since one sheds light on the other.

According to the above explanation, we can understand why:

  1. Rashi makes no comment on the verse in Parshas Bereishis—since at that point it is self-understood.

  2. Why Rashi explains both verses here in Parshas Noach, since the explanation of our verse invites a re-evaluation of our earlier understanding.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 20, p. 30ff.)